Reports | August 15, 2012 13:11

Chess also develops psychological skills, says new study

La Laguna University

Chess not only develops what we can call "pure intelligence", but also many psychological skills. This is the conclusion of recent research by three psychologists of La Laguna (Tenerife) University.

Lots of scientific research on chess has been done since Adriaan de Groot's groundbreaking work in 1946, Het denken van den Schaker, een experimenteel- psychologische studie (The thinking of the chess player: An experimental - psychological study). However, most of this research focuses on the analysis of the intellectual domain. There are few empirical studies of the socio-affective competences, in addition to the cognitive competences, that are required to be a successful chess player.

Ramón Aciego, Lorena García and Moisés Betancort of the La Laguna University in Tenerife, Spain decided to examine the benefits of regularly playing chess for the intellectual and social-emotional enrichment of schoolchildren. They selected a group of 170 pupils in the age 6-16 years old. They were all boys and girls from eight different schools on the Tenerife island that offer chess as an extracurricular activity in the afternoon. To form the comparison group, the researchers randomly chose 60 classmates who chose to play soccer or basketball as their extracurricular activity.

The children's cognitive and socio-affective competences were analyzed by means of performance scales, self-assessment and teacher's assessment, applied at the start and at the end of the academic course. Throughout the academic course, the students attended the extracurricular activities of chess, soccer, or basketball, at the same school and in the afternoon. At the end of the course, all the data were analyzed to see whether there were significant posttest group changes.

As expected, the data showed an improvement in the cognitive competences of the group that played chess regularly. However, the data analysis also revealed that certain socio-affective variables showed a significant improvement in the chess group, both in the teachers’ rating and, to a lesser extent, in the students’ self-appraisals.

The researchers found that, according to teachers’ ratings, the chess playing pupils improved significantly in the variables of Academic Adjustment, Personal Adjustment, and Coping Capacity. The teachers perceived the students as being more satisfied with the school and with the teacher, enjoying studying more, being more self-satisfied, more self-confident and self-assured, and lastly, having a greater coping and problem-solving capacity. (As the researchers point out, the students themselves did not seem to be very aware of these important changes.)

At the end of their article, the researchers suggest an interesting topic for future research: to compare the effect of different training methods of chess, for example, “board-focused” versus methods concerned with providing a more integral formation.

This could shed some light on why training in chess produces these benefits, and whatever is occurring in the socio-affective sphere is particularly interesting. It would also be interesting to analyze, in children and youngsters with adjustment problems at school, the results obtained if they were encouraged to play chess continually and more or less systematically.

The article discussed, "The Benefits of Chess for the Intellectual and Social-Emotional Enrichment in Schoolchildren", was published in the Spanish Journal of Psychology (2012, Vol. 15, No. 2). You can download it in PDF here.

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Ichabod's picture

Like all other studies showing a benefit from playing Chess, this one is completely meaningless. The children were not randomly assigned to the two groups, they were already in the two groups by their own choice. That leaves open the possibility that the so-called benefits are the cause of the Chess playing, not the other way around; or that a third factor is causing both the benefits and the desire to play Chess. The other explanations are especially likely given that the only statistically valid study of Chess in schools showed no benefit whatsoever.

Johnnyballgame's picture

"Don't bring me down!"--- Electric Light Orchestra

litmus's picture

"Like all other studies showing a benefit from playing Chess, this one is completely meaningless." Wow! You dismiss not only this study but any other study that claims to show a benefit from playing chess. Out of curiosity, what is the "only" statistically valid study that you refer to, that gives you such confidence in your blanket assessment?

Separating correlation from causation is difficult in this kind of experiment since there is usually no viable alternative to self-selection. (You can't force the soccer-liking kids to play chess instead for a whole academic year.) Even with self-selection, one could ask whether any extra-curricular activity (chess, music, soccer) has any "benefit" as measured by the two tests in the paper. It might have been possible to design the experiment a little better. For example, to rule out age-related improvements, one could have compared the pre-activity scores of the 7-16 year olds to the post-activity scores of the 6-15 year olds (either stratified by age or lumped together). It also appears that the "improvements" are comfortably within one standard deviation, so what's the big deal? I could be misreading the paper, of course. Since I am still curious I will email the authors directly.

Arne Moll's picture

It's indeed a bit harsh to dismiss the study on the basis of that, but there are a couple of strange things in this study all the same. Most conspicuously, the sample sizes are very different for both groups, meaning that the larger sample might well have a tendency to show more significant effects. Then there is, as always, the missed opportunity of comparing chess not with soccer but with, say, draughts or GTA. Now we'll never know if it was chess that was so benedicial to the student, of just any (mind) game. Finally the methods rely quite heavily on the teacher's opinion, which makes me wonder if they also randomly assigned the teachers to compensate for this. In all, the study raises more questions that it answers - which I guess could also be seen as a good thing...

Amos's picture

Yes, the main thing that makes me skeptical of this study is the fact, that most improvement is seen in the subjective teachers evaluation.

The objective tests do not show significantly better results for chess playing kids. Their end scores are usually higher than the soccer kids, but their beginning scores are also comparatively higher.

The last aspect illustrates the self-selection bias. The "smart" kids chose to study chess. We can safely assume that they also engaged in other mental activities, like reading, more than the soccer kids during the test period. So there is no reason to believe chess caused improvements in their score.

SHUKI's picture

Chess in schools is promoted by bosses of chess
like Kasparov and Iljumzhinov.
The more chess players the more power they have.
Stop this Tirany.
Promote Math, Music, Gymnastics and Literature.
Let the enthusiasts play chess.

Johnnyballgame's picture

SHUKI is Mary Lou Retton's secret identity.

Ed Dean's picture

Math and Literature in schools is promoted by bosses of Math and Literature. The more mathematicians and readers, the more power they have. Stop this tyranny. Promote Music, Gymnastics and Chess. Let the enthusiasts read and count.

Casaubon's picture

I'm curious. Studies in math and literature are indeed useful, but shouldn't Music and Gymnastics (and I don't see why gymnastics is any different from other sports, I can only suppose that you're a gymnastics enthusiast) fall under the same umbrella as chess for education purposes?

hatsekidosie's picture

... and the children proved to be more paranoid after one year of intense chess training.

Eiae's picture

Mumbo Jumbo!

So they can sit silenty at chairs and please their teachers, well hurrah!

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